Thursday, May 1, 2008

Transformational Diplomacy: Headache in the Details

I have written previously about the Belarus dustup here. In the last 12 hours, Minsk has kicked up some more dust with the expulsion of 10 additional U.S. diplomats, leaving the U.S. Embassy in Minsk with a remaining staff of five officers. "The foreign ministry gave us a list of 10 diplomats who are considered persona non grata and should leave the country in the space of 72 hours," Jonathan Moore, the chargĂ© d'affaires in Minsk, told journalists at a briefing.” Now, the host government is not even asking “nicely” anymore. It gave the Embassy a list and told the diplomats basically to “get lost” in three days. You can read the WaPo coverage here and the VOA piece here.

The Washington Post reports that Belarusian President Lukashenko, a former collective farm manager who has been in power since 1994, has been accused of smothering opposition groups' freedoms of speech and assembly, prompting some to call Belarus the "last dictatorship in Europe." The report also informs us that Washington imposed sanctions on the state oil company, Belneftekhim, which U.S. officials say is personally controlled by Lukashenko. The company accounts for about one-third of Belarus's foreign currency earnings. All that, plus he threw opposition leader Alexander Kozulin in jail for a 5 1/2 -year sentence for organizing demonstrations after the 2006 presidential election so Lukashenko and 30 other senior Belarusan officials were also barred from traveling to the United States and the European Union.

By every stretch of the Western imagination, it looks like Belarus is a country in need of transformation. The objective of transformational diplomacy is to work with our many partners around the world, to build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. Obviously here is one prime candidate that needs real help, and this is what I don’t get about this bold initiative …. pray somebody explain this to me – we give our diplomats a new task, to work with coalitions and partners to build and sustain democratic, well governed states … but since our diplomats on the ground are subject to the “hospitality” of the host government at every place they are located, how are they going to do their job unless their presence (and work) is tolerated by the host government? I’m using the term “hospitality” in the broadest sense here – as in they have the power to let you stay or kick you out of the country.

From the Congressional Research Service Report last year:

"Transformational diplomacy is about the nature of political regimes in other countries, and it promotes the United States “working with partners to build and sustain democratic, well-governed, responsible states that will respond to the needs of their people. The views of other nations then become important as to whether sovereign governments accept this agenda of the United States. For instance, will other governments take issue with Secretary Rice’s January 2006 speech on transformational diplomacy in which she stated that U.S. diplomats will be “helping foreign citizens to promote democracy building, fight corruption, start businesses, improve healthcare, and reform education?” Will other governments allow the expansion of U.S. representation to American Presence Posts around their countries? And how receptive will people in other countries be to the new U.S. initiatives?"

Generally speaking, what nation worth its salt would not resist interference from any outside force seeking to actively change its internal systems? If some country, let’s say China or Russia, sends their diplomats to Washington D.C. or Chicago or L.A. with the objective of changing our American system to become more like theirs because they are convinced this would bring a new world order, would we not resist and kick them all out in one swoop? You bet we would!

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we need a new diplomatic approach in confronting the challenges of the 21st century, but as usual, the devil is in the details and right now, the details are giving me a bad headache.

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